One of the prettiest parks I’ve been to is Taughannock Falls State Park, located on the shores of Cayuga Lake 7 miles north of Ithaca, about a three hour drive from Buffalo. We stopped here for only a few hours, but one could easily spend the entire day here.
A bit of park history
The park, as well as the whole Finger Lakes region, was formed over 10,000 years ago, when glaciers receded, leaving deep steep-sided troughs. Water filled these troughs, forming the eleven lakes in the Finger Lakes region. Taughannock Creek, flowing into Cayuga Lake formed the ¾ mile gorge found in the park.
The most spectacular feature in the park is the 215 foot waterfall located deep in the gorge. Three stories taller than Niagara Falls, this waterfall plunges through a rock amphitheater which has walls over 400 feet tall. The area was once inhabited by the Cayuga Indians, who were at war with the Delaware Indians.
There are a couple of theories as to how the falls got its name. Some say it was named after the Delaware Chief, Taughannock, whom the Cayuga’s killed and threw over the falls. Others say the name comes from the Delaware word “taghkanic,” which means “great fall in the woods.”
After European settlement, a village located here was a stop for steamboats, which traveled Cayuga Lake in the early 1800’s. In 1873, when the railroad came though the area, it became a popular summer vacation destination, with two resort hotels in the area. In 1925 the area became a public park, with many of the park structures built in the 1930’s from the Civilian Conservation Corps.
A great place to hike
While we could have driven the park road to the overlook to view the falls from above, which we actually did later in the day, we decided to hike the ¾ mile long trail along the floor of the gorge. It’s a flat, easy to walk trail, with a slight incline in a few spots. It took us about 15-20 minutes to get to the falls walking at a leisurely pace. It is stroller accessible and dogs are permitted on a leash.
Along the trail there are reference boards that have information about the geology, ecology and history of the area. Some of the things we learned along the way are that 380 million years ago this area was once the bottom of an ancient sea. The gorge floor is made of limestone that was once lime-mud made from the skeletons and shells of algae and marine organisms. The walls of the gorge are made of shale, which was formed from clay and silt that settled on the lime-mud and hardened into rock.
While you may see some fossils, you must leave them for others to enjoy, as fossil collecting is not permitted in the park. Some of the creatures that now inhabit the gorge include brown bats, rough-winged swallows and pigeons.
Once we reached the falls, we decided that the hike was well worth it. From the gorge floor the falls appeared to be coming right out of the gorge wall; a very pretty view.
As mentioned earlier, if you don’t have the time or the ability to hike the gorge trail, you can view the falls from an overlook, located on the upper rim of the gorge right near the park road. In addition to the gorge trail, there are several other hiking trails located within the park. You can hike a 1 1/8 mile trail along the south gorge rim and a 1 ½ mile trail along the north rim. There is also a two mile multi-use trail, which doubles as a cross-country skiing trail in the winter.
Other park features
The part of the park along the water’s edge is also very pretty. I walked around snapping photos of the lake, while my youngest two children enjoyed playing on the playground in that area. The park has seasonal boat slips as well as overnight transient slips. There is also a swimming area and a fishing pier.
If you enjoy camping, the park has 16 electric and 60 non-electric campsites. Camping facilities are open late March-mid-October and can be reserved by calling 1-800-456-2267 or going online to www.reserveamerica.com.
Now if I were to stay in this area, you would not find me camping, as I am not a camper. However, right next to the park is a lovely country inn, Taughannock Farms Inn, which has 22 guest rooms along with a dining room overlooking the lake. The main building of the inn was built in 1873 as a private residence; many of the original furnishings are still part of the inn’s décor. It would definitely be a great place to stay for a romantic getaway weekend!
Traveling back to Buffalo along Route 89 north, you’ll find over a dozen wineries, part of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. If you have the time, stop to check out a few of them; several of them even have winery cafes.
Events taking place in the park and in nearby Trumansburg in coming months include Concerts in the Park, featuring live music on Saturday nights in July and August at the park pavilion.
Music is also featured at the 19th annual Finger Lakes Grass Roots Festival of Music and Dance, which takes place July 16-19 at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds.
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, the first organized wine trail in the state, celebrated 25 years in 2008. The trail has 16 wineries, including a cidery. Most are open daily for tastings and sales and have tours by appointment. The majority of the wineries are on the west side of the lake, many of them just north of Taughannock Falls State Park.
For a complete listing of all the wineries, accommodations and attractions along the trail, call 1-800-684-5217 for a brochure or visit www.cayugawinetrail.com
One popular event along the wine trail is the upcoming 17th annual Wine and Herb Fest, which takes place April 24-26 and May 1-3. Celebrate spring as you visit the 16 wineries on the trail. Participants will receive an herb or vegetable plant at each winery. In addition, foods prepared using herbs will be paired wine various wines for tasting at each winery. Tickets are $35/person or $50/couple.
If you go
Taughannock Falls State Park (607-387-6739) 2221 Taughannock Road, Trumansburg, NY
Taughannock Farms Inn (607-387-7711, 888-387-7711; www.t-farms.com ) 2030 Gorge Road, Trumansburg, NY
Directions From Buffalo, take the New York State Thruway (I-90) to exit 41 (Waterloo). Take Route 318 east to Route 89. Head south on Route 89 about 25 miles to Taughannock Falls State Park.